The Group 9 competition has reached the halfway point of the 2021 season and right now, it looks a two-horse race for the minor premiership, while the top five is close to being set in stone.
Tumut are top of the table and have only lost the one game, with the 2019 premiers and 2020 grand finalist the short-price favourites to qualify for a third-straight grand final.
Southcity have been the big improvers and look the team most likely to topple Tumut.
Young, Gundagai and Kangaroos are all safely inside the top five, and barring any major collapses, they should be playing finals – how far they progress is another question.
Unfortunately, it looks as though a winless Brothers are playing for pride while Temora and Albury need to win more than they lose in the second half of the season if they want to play finals.
In this article, Tumut and Adelong Times sports journalist Jeff Hanson runs his eye over the Group 9 teams, offering his thoughts on players to watch from each side and each club’s success to date.
Player to watch: Ron Leapai is leading the Weissel Medal voting for a reason. He is big, fast and strong and if he isn’t busting through the line and creating attacking opportunities, he is laying players out with his rock-hard defence.
Summary: The Blues look every part the Group 9 premiership favourites, with their only hiccup a two-point loss to Roos in round two.
Even when they are playing bad rugby league, they are winning with ease.
They have a big second half of the season ahead of them, but it is shaping as a five-team competition and the Blues were already impressive against the likes of Gundagai, Young and Southcity.
The 2021 Group 9 competition is theirs to lose, and their big forward pack should be guiding them to a second premiership in three years.
Prediction: Runners up
Player to watch: Nathan Rose was incredible against Tumut when his side went down back in round six, scoring four tries and setting up two more.
The playmaker lifts for these contests and will be one to watch.
Summary: Southcity shape as Tumut’s biggest threat to winning silverware in 2021.
The Wagga side trailed Tumut easily in round six, before making a comeback and only falling short in the final stages.
Their backline is the best in the competition, and if their forwards can withstand Tumut’s bustling pack, they could topple the Blues.
Player to watch: Mitch Cornish is a smart playmaker who is really finding his feet with Young.
The second half of the season was always going to be the Cherrypickers’ strongest half and Cornish will be looking forward to playing off the back of a big forward pack.
Summary: Young are serial Group 9 underperformers, with the club regularly boasting a strong side that fails to live up to early-season expectations.
Things could be different in 2021, because after a stop-start first half of the season, they still sit in third place.
The Cherrypickers will hit the line strongly and could be tough a commodity for the top five teams come finals.
Player to watch: Dane O’Hehir is Gundagai’s danger man, with the rangy fullback good under the high ball and almost unstoppable in one-on-one circumstances.
If the Tigers are to keep up with the top three teams, he needs to fire.
Summary: Gundagai have been cruelled by injuries to key personnel, and as a result, sit fourth and are precariously placed in the Group 9 top five.
The Black and Golds will welcome the return of key players, but they are yet to set the world alight, highlighted by a scrappy 24-22 victory over Temora in round nine of the competition, while going down to Albury earlier this season.
Player to watch: Luke Ingram is a tough as nails forward who will need to set the platform for a young Roos line-up.
He lines up next to Braydon Sharrock, and the pair will need to be on their game against those big packs from Tumut and Young.
Summary: The Kangaroos started the season on fire, surprising the Tumut Blues in round two and looked like one of the competition favourites.
The Wagga side fell away when tested by other competition heavyweights, but a strong Roos line-up could very well bounce back towards the back end of the season and will put pressure on Young and Gundagai for that third sport.
Player to watch: Hamish Starr was good against Tumut when given the chance but those chances have been few and far between this season.
If the wiry fullback does get the ball in space, he is quick and knows how to find the try line.
Summary: Depth is becoming a real issue for Temora, and if they continue to lose players for the year, they may struggle to make any headway on the current top five.
They had a stirring two-point loss to Gundagai last week, but their best and worst footy are worlds apart and it really depends on what Red and White’s team turns up on the day.
Player to watch: Robbie Byatt was Albury’s best against Tumut and he has again been strong this season.
While he is a centre at heart, Byatt and the Thunder play better when he is in the halves and it will be interesting to see if that becomes a permanent move in the second half of the season.
Summary: Albury have been hit and miss, pushing the top teams at times and beating Gundagai, but losing to Temora and Kangaroos.
The border side looks the best chance of any of the bottom three teams breaking into the top five, but they need to do away with the likes of the Dragons, Tigers and Kangaroos in the second half of the season to make that happen.
Player to watch: Cade Price is fast and elusive and he proved that at times on Saturday against the Tumut Blues, scoring an entertaining try.
He doesn’t have much of a pack to play off, but he is definitely the player who can make something from nothing.
Summary: It will be a surprise if Brothers win a game. They have struggled with quality and depth in 2021 and that will only get worse as the season rolls on.
Their best chance of success will likely come against Thunder and Dragons.